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Where There's Esperanza, There's Hope

"I've known her since we were in kindergarten ... and I love her"

By Tommy Villalobos
Published on LatinoLA: July 26, 2011


Where There's Esperanza, There's Hope


ByEsperanza Frianos was a girl that Claudio Doykiz wanted to marry. This was so since the Third Grade. But that was on hold. Esperanza now liked Bernab?® Camarotez, although she told Claudio that she used to like him in the Third and even part of the Fourth Grade. To complicate matters, all parties were eleven. And Claudio would never have girls throwing themselves at his feet. More likely, they would be kicking him away with their feet. His face had an irregular V-shape, and his nose belonged on a boy in the pimple stage of life. An abuelita counseled him that he should get married as soon as possible as one only gets uglier as time goes on.

With his abuelita's caution in mind, he approached Bernab?® and told him that he, Claudio, had to marry Esperanza. Bernab?®, a boy of few words and fewer thoughts, briskly punched Claudio on the nariz then chased him home.

Seven years later, Claudio, now eighteen, and fully grown around his nose with his own set of pimples, was again running home. When Claudio tore into the house, the family dog Listo beat Gata, the family cat, underneath Claudio's bed. His mother Paula Doykiz streaked out of the kitchen.

"Did that Bernab?® chase you home again?" she said, standing over Claudio, years but mere moments to a mother.

"No."

"Why did you come running in here like <i>La Llorona</i> was hitting on you?"

"Because."

"You know, your father is right. Your answers need to have more words. You're fast approaching the age when getting by with 'because's' and 'maybe's' and 'uh-huh's' is going to put you at a disadvantage."

"I was fired. There's three big ones."

His mother looked at him as a mother looks upon a small child who has used its first bad word.

"How can you be fired from a job with little to do or say, with an uncle for your boss? You just went to workÔǪwhat... <i>no hace m?ís de una hora</i>."

"Could you call him and tell him that?"

"You're missing my point, Claudio. What did he say?"

"That I shredded papers that were the most important papers ever to cross any desk this millennium. You know Uncle Narciso, the drama king."

"He's worked hard to build up his landscaping business. He came here from Juarez as a youngster wearing sandals and with only a few pesos in his pantalones."

"I'm surprised he admits to having pantalones when he got here."

"All you had to do was keep his office clean, not make strange noises or squeeze your pimples around him. Why did you shred papers anyway?"

"I wanted to try the shredder. The papers were on the floor all dusty."

"Did he say anything else, like he might hire you again someday?"

"No. After yelling like an elephant stepped on his head, he stood still for a long time thinking. I thought he was going to say something in uncle like 'It's okay sobrino, these things happen.' Instead, he grabbed my head and tried to put my head into the shredder but I wouldn't let him."

"Quick thinking. What are we going to tell your father?"

"Call Uncle Narciso and tell him to give me my job back."

"You better tell your father that outside."

"Oh, yeah, the language."

"No, so you can get a running start when he grabs for your <i>cuello</i>. Your father has worked selling everything from tamales to houses and has never even been fired or even laid off. I worked for twelve years as a waitress, secretary, bus driver and candy maker, never was fired and laid off only once."

"You were laid off?"

"You make it sound like I hacked off somebody's head."

"Who laid you off?"

"This dummy who sold lamps for baby rooms. I was his secretary."

"Didn't you tell him?"

"Tell him what?"

"That you'd never been laid off or fired?"

"Don't talk silly."

"Why'd he do it?"

"Do what?"

"Lay you are you dodging me?"

"Dodging?"

"You are. What happened?"

"Well, IIokay <i>fisg??n</i>. I threw away some papers."

Claudio smiled broadly, the world along with the moon lifted off his shoulders.

"See, it runs in the family. Like moles or something. But why didn't you just get them from the trash?"

"A whole month went by before he noticed them missing. They were long gone to the dump."

"Now dad will understand since it happened to you."

"It happened before we were married."

"And he married you anyway. I'm fine."

"Fine like a mouse with its neck snapped in a trap."

"Huh?"

"Huh?" repeated Rafael, his father, as he entered the house with a snort resembling a bull with a severe sinus problem.

"Oh, Ralph," cooed his wife, "we were just talking."

"Just talking?"

"Just talking."

"Just talking," said Claudio to be sure that the matter was clear to all.

"Quit talking and tell me what you were talking about," said Rafael.

His request stymied mother and son but Paula was the first to rebound.

"Remember I told you about the time I threw some papers away and was laid off?"

"You said you were fired."

The four eyes belonging collectively to Claudio and his father converged on Paula. Claudio had never seen such uncertainty in his mother's eyes. Rafael only once for a full minute after he proposed to her before she accepted with an anemic nod.

"He told me that he might need help in the future," she croaked in a voice that might have been perked the ears of a throat specialist.

"He was a dirty son of <i>un soltero</i>," said Rafael. "I think I'll go over to his chante and twist his nose clockwise then counter-clockwise then clockwise again."

"You don't even know where he and his nose live," said Claudio.

"He lives nowhere," sniffled Paula.

"Everyone lives somewhere," said her husband, playing the logic card.

"Not him. He died at the dump looking for those papers. They said he was inadvertently buried under several tons of trash. They never found his body."

"He was making a lot out of nothing," said Rafael. "My brother is a cool businessman."

Some people prefer their bad news broken to them slowly. Others prefer that you pour it over them like a bucket of ice water. Claudio was trying to recall under which category his father fell. His mother saved him the mental anguish.

"Rafael, your son was canned by your brother."

Rafael froze and remained so for a few moments, eyeing his wife as if she had announced that she wanted to be the first Latina Sumo wrestler.

"My brother canned our son?" he said in a voice that sounded like it floated in from the beyond.

"Our only son," she said, in Claudio's cause. "He began at nine and was booted by ten."

Rafael looked from mother to son then reversed his course from son to mother. Still not finding gratification, he repeated the drill. Then he hung his head so low that Claudio feared it might drop off his shoulders and bounce away.

"Even considering it was Claudio, it can't be," he said sitting down. "One hour? One week, maybe. Even one day my heart could take. But one hour?" His voice trailed off and he sat looking at a wall with such intensity, that Claudio and his mother followed his gaze to see if he was locked into a divine vision.

"Well, it could be worse," said Paula, attempting to transform vinegar into wine.

"It is," Rafael said sullenly as he continued to stare at the wall, his eyes resembling the eyes of a trout about to be gutted.

Paula and Claudio now fixed their eyes on Rafael as if he were about to reveal the meaning of Lady Gaga.

"I was laid off," he said without disrupting his fascination with the wall.

Paula poured herself into a chair.

"How could they do that?" said Paula. "You're their best salesperson. Plus you're bilingual."

"Actually, trilingual. I picked up a little Vietnamese. Enough to understand they weren't buying from me either."

"What did they tell you?"

"They said my sales figures were not up to par with the younger personnel."

"What?" said Paula.

"Those were my very words."

"What?" repeated Paula.

"Again, my very words. I also gave it the ol' What? twice."

"<i>??Por qu?®?</i>" she said, trying her backup idiom.

"Young couples shopping look at me like an old t?¡o who never knows what he's talking about. They just walk away as if I was blabbering on about snails in my garden."

"When did they say you'd be called back?"

"They didn't."

"Then you were fired."

"I didn't say that."

"I did."

"Well, don't. It's not true. Downsized, maybe."

Paula closed her eyes as if experiencing a hidden dolor. She then proceeded to do what disquieted women have been doing since they first settled down next to hairy men around campfires--she went to the kitchen and started banging pots around.

"I say you approach my bro and beg him to take our pepino back," yelled Rafael into the kitchen.

"I say you go up to Umaga and give him a big beso," yelled Paula from the kitchen.

"Why in all the pan dulce in East Los would I do that?"

"You want me to go to your triple-chinned, lizard-mouthed brother Narciso and ask him for something?" said Paula returning. "He is bigheaded. He probably has a statue of himself somewhere."

"Still, coming from you, a devoted mother, it would sound heart wrenching. Coming from me, it would sound like I want to borrow a tool or something."

"I still think since he is your brother, he is your brother," she said then returned to conduct her Symphony for Pots and Pans.

Rafael believed that women had a knack to baffle with singular locution. They were artists with the cutting phrase or illogically presented logic. He looked over to Claudio who offered a weak smile, hoping to bring good cheer to his agitated father. Rafael stared at Claudio like a ravenous grizzly eyeing a flabby hiker.

"Why are you smiling? You know, right now I'd like to lay a major cachetada on you."

"Pops, I will do anything to help you."

"Does that include work?"

The question foiled Claudio. Rafael filled in.

"You look like a confused gallo in a pigeon coop. Ever rob a bank?"

Claudio thought. "I saw this movie once and--"

"?íOigame! I don't have a job, you don't have a job."

"And ma doesn't have a job," said Claudio in order to form a complete report.

"Rafael sat down then shot up as if bit by a posse of pulgas. "How about your friend, Francis Galletis?"

"He likes to be called Frank."

"He drives UPS truck, no? He was the brains of your group."

"He was?"

"Well, you certainly weren't."

"I could beat him at checkers."

"But he moved up to chess."

Claudio bit his lip.

"I could hit a ball farther."

"But he made the baseball team at Roosevelt."

Claudio felt like Oscar De La Hoya after another comeback attempt.

"Tell you what," his father said amiably. "Why don't you invite Francis a.k.a. Frank over for dinner. That way, over a few risas and your mother's enchiladas he can get you a job driving a cami??n."

"But I don't have a license."

"That's right. The written test gave you a fit. You gave up after eleven tries."

"I passed that on the twelfth try. It was the driving part I didn't pass."

"I remember! You nearly hit a viejita. She stepped off the curb in front of you."

"No, I drove on the sidewalk and almost nailed her."

"De veras. Gracias a Dios the crash only gave you a lump on your head."

"I got that from the viejita. She hit me with a cane. Man, they make those things with petrified wood."

"Maybe FrancisFrank can help you get some kind of job there."

"It'll take a while for him to get here."

"I mean when he gets off work, hombre."

"He's in Spain."

"Why?"

"He's in the Air Force."

"Why, oh why?"

"I guess he got all patriotic one day, I dunno."

"My 'Why?' was directed at your idiocy."

"Why?"

Rafael wanted to grab Claudio by the seat and fling him onto Paula's pots and pans. His face had just turned to a low level red when Paula returned.

"Well, have we figured anything out?" she said.

"Yes, your son is on permanent dimmer."

"Don't be so hard on mi'ijo. He is clever."

"Clever? Changos are clever. What we now need is smarts."

"We've always figured a way out, Rafi."

"I don't like it when you call me that."

"It gets your attention."

"That son of yourn' had me rattling on like a TV preacher. I was trying to get Francis Galletis to come over for dinner so he could get Claudio a job."

"You don't know that."

"Know what?"

"That Francis Galletis could get Claudio a job."

"Well, I do now. He can't."

"Why?"

"He won't because he's thousands of miles down the road."

"What?"

"What? Why? Who?" said Rafael with a level two red on his face.

"You look like a jard?¡n full of rotting tomates. Where is Francis Galletis?"

"I told you, vieja. He's in Spain."

"In Spain?"

"Like the 'Rain in Spain.'"

"And don't call me vieja."

"Don't call me Rafi."

It appeared to Claudio that his family was down for the count. They would have to set up housekeeping under a bridge. And the girl that should be his, Esperanza Frianos, was going to marry the premier gusano of East L.A., Bernab?® Camarotez. His father's voice rang out and hit him like a chunk of cement to the side of the head.

"How come you look halfway to Disneyland?"

"He's thinking," Paula said.

"Gabriel Iglesias will sooner circle the moon flapping his brazos."

"We're going to lose our house," Claudio said as if talking in his sleep. "It's, like, fate."

"Well, fate has had little to do with my life so far."

"All this mess is your fault then?" said Claudio sincerely.

With his loudest snort to date, Rafael stumbled out of the house. Claudio, bewildered, looked to his mother for solace. She was watching her husband through the living room window.

"Your father is walking away," said Paula.

"Walking? I thought I'd hear our dog Listo talk first."

They both studied Rafael's diminishing figure. Later, they learned that a delivery truck full of refrigerators and stoves bumped him onto a bench, where he sat politely, a bundle of repositioned bones. Claudio thought it was fitting a truck full of appliances hit him and said so at the hospital. Paula smacked him on the side of the head with the latest issue of Latina Motherhood.

Claudio, with a slight headache, vowed to get a job and keep it for at least two hours. He also would snag Esperanza. This meant that he would have to confront Bernab?® again. It would be like yanking a raw knucklebone from a pit bull. His mother also reminded him that pobreza is the slippery step at the door of love. For Claudio, there was no sky, no sun, just turbulent clouds. But he considered his family, which reinvigorated him.

His first act was to amble up to Esperanza's house. The house looked like someone's abuelita lived there. An assortment of flowers blanketed the front yard while a rocking chair rested strategically on the porch beneath a row of singing chimes. A ceramic jarra hung from a beam. He knocked. A small boy opened the door. He squinted as if he were attempting to squeeze Claudio out of being. Claudio cleared his throat.

"I want to talk to Esperanza."

"Why?"

This question reminded him of his father and his one-syllable phobia. He looked down to regroup mentally. The boy also looked down wide-eyed, speculating that Claudio might have spotted a five.

Raising his head, Claudio said, "I've known her since we were in kindergarten."

"Huh?" said the boy, raising his.

Claudio thought some more.

"And I love her."

"What?"

Claudio was sure that the color of his father's face would be a deep purple if he were present to hear all this one syllable-ing. He continued.

"She's all I think about."

"Who?"

"Me."

"I know that. But who?"

Claudio was now confused.

"Is your mother home?"

"Nah, she went to work. What are you selling?"

"Where's your hermana?"

"Why?"

"Man, I'm a guy, she's a chick. We belong together like chorizo con huevos, okay?"

"I don't like chorizo con huevos."

"That don't matter. I came to visit your sister."

"She's not home."

"Why?"

"Because I just looked."

"Where did she go?"

"I don't know. Prolly with Bernab?®."

"Why Bernab?®?"

"You have to ask her."

"No, I mean why are you saying Bernab?®?"

"That's the dude's name."

"No, man, why are youwhat's your name?"

"Henry."

"Okay, Enrique, why do you think she's with pea brain?"

"Love."

"What do you know about love?"

"Enough to know she won't ever love you."

"Uh-huh."

"Uh-uh."

"Yes."

"Never."

"Absolutely."

"Chale."

"Sim??n."

"Nel."

Having enough of the one-word debate, Henry closed the door.

Claudio went home.

Uncle Narciso was now visiting his injured brother regularly. Rafael and Paula cultivated hopes that he would rehire Claudio. Two months after the accident, Uncle Narciso danced the Jarabe Tapat?¡o on their hopes.

"I hired a new helper," he beamed. "Dumber than dirty laundry. Reminds me of Claudio. But I don't have to pay him much."

"Claudio can be smart," said Rafael readjusting his leg cast. "You have to catch him at the right time."

"Well, I have no time for those magic moments. This boy I hired works like a mula. Just got married. Bernab?® is his name."

"What about Bernab?®?" said Claudio, who had been slumbering nearby.

"Bernab?® Camarotez is the joven I hired."

"He's nothing but a tire bustin' banana," said Claudio.

"??Qu?®?"

"He's had bad experiences with Bernab?® going back to when they were kids," said Paula.

"What did Claudio do, shred his comic books?" said Uncle Narciso with a cackle that died quickly when no one joined in.

Uncle Narciso left. Claudio headed to Belvedere Park feeling as hopeless as a collection of lost souls being herded into the Inferno. At the park he saw a hunched figure at a distance sitting on a bench, swaying and moaning, baseball cap pulled down to the nose. My family will soon be sharing that bench with you, guy, keep it warm, he thought. The figure bent over. The cap fell and rivulets of hair followed. The hair was long and blazed a bright auburn in the sun.

Curiosity overtook Claudio Doykiz. He got up and walked closer to the figure. The hair shone even more brilliant at close range. He guessed it to be a female. Probably a vieja filled with regrets brought on by a wine soaked life. She looked up. Claudio shot up like a toad tossed on a hot comal. It was Esperanza Frianos.

"Esperanza?" he said.

"Claudio?" she said with eyes swollen and red. "What are you doing here?"

"You said it first, but I should have. Man, you look married and miserable already, although I don't blame you considering the pepino you're now stapled to."

"I'm not stapled to a pepino. Or a calabaza. Or even a zanahoria."

"Well, whatever vegetable he is, he is rotten. I don't see how you married Bernab?®."

"I didn't."

"Okay, he chose you and you went along, blinded by--"

"You're always confused, Claudio. I'm not married to Bernab?®.

"You're just living with the slug?" he said in a voice an abuela would use upon hearing her beloved granddaughter has run away with an elderly mariachi.

"No."

"Well, he thinks he not only lives with you but he's going around calling you his wife."

"I don't know why. He married Katie Lagranas."

"He did?"

She nodded.

"Why did he do this to you?"

"Do what?"

"Put you in the recycle bin. Threw you out like an old chancla."

"He didn't. I left him."

"You left him?"

"And glad I did."

"Then why do you look like something pulled out of a swamp?"

"Because I lost my little dog Tootles."

"You did?" he said cheerfully.

"Why are you smiling like that? Even your gums are showing."

"Because we can find Tootles together."

"We can't unless you have a special pass. Tootles is no more. Fourteen years and now gone to a yappier place."

"You talk like he was human."

"She. Her dying was much worst than telling Bernab?® we weren't right for each other."

"I could have told you that a long time ago. You know, I never stopped thinking about when we liked each other in the Third Grade."

"After all this time?"

"And hoped and hoped that you'd get tired of that tonto Bernab?®."

"Do you want to walk with me?"

Claudio's head nodded in multiple directions, like a bobblehead. They strolled around the park, talking about all things. In the end, she said her father could give him a job at his garage. Busting tires, Claudio guessed with a grin. The sun's rays were now massaging Claudio, crown to tootsies. A famous philosopher once said, "Hope is the poor man's bread." Claudio would agree, and would again nod his head like a bobblehead.

As he walked her home, Claudio told himself that he would not lose this job. Or Esperanza. Or Hope.

<b>More stories by Tommy Villalobos</b>

Brooklyn and Mednik - Happy Times

Love Thy Neighbor--?íPero No Te Dejes!

Hard Hearts and Hard Heads

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